Offering learners visual representations of calculation methods helps them develop number sense by encouraging them to break numbers apart and re-group them again. This task offers learners an experience of maths as a creative, flexible subject at the same time as developing their fluency and their conceptual understanding of number.
Read more about the benefits of having a flexible approach to calculation in our Let's Get Flexible! article.
Invite everyone in the class to work out 18x5 mentally, and ask them to jot down their answer. Reassure the group that this is not about speed, but you would like them not to write anything down, other than the answer. Give them time to compare their answer with a partner, and at this stage ask them to explain to their partner how they arrived at their answer.
Bring everyone together again and invite a pupil to share their partner's method. Jot down what is said (preferably verbatim as far as you can) and give the whole group chance to ask questions for clarification. (Try not to answer these yourself, but encourage the pair to respond, or others in the class.) You might ask who else used that method. Repeat this process so you that you have a variety of methods written on the board reflecting the range of approaches in the room. Label each one with the pupil's name so you can easily refer to them e.g. Oscar's method.
At this point, give out a set of the description cards and their visual representations (printed from this sheet) to each pair or group of four. You may like to say that the cards show just five ways of approaching the calculation 18x5. Challenge the class to match each description to its visual representation, and explain that you will be keen to know how they decided on the pairings.
Circulate round the room, listening out for learners who are justifying their choices. In the final plenary, you could call on some of the pairs/groups you overheard to share their reasoning with the whole class. You could also invite learners to say which method/s they prefer and why. This has the potential to provoke some interesting discussions, which might reveal the influence of wider society (e.g. parents or tutors) for 'preferred methods/algorithms' whatever the calculation. It would be interesting to learn whether pupils found it difficult to work mentally when they may feel the 'more sophisticated' method is written. We know from research that once learners have been introduced to written methods they become the default approach for many, even those who can perform a given calculation mentally.
If time allows, or in subsequent lessons, you could pose a new calculation and ask learners to use a particular method (perhaps by referring to it using the name of the pupil who first described it), or to use a different method from the one they used originally.
An alternative way to approach this task could be to share all the images, without the descriptions, and invite learners to talk in pairs about what calculation they represent. You could invite learners to create a 'description card' for each image themselves.
Tell me what you see in this drawing.
What does this part of the drawing show?
Some learners will benefit from an adult or peer reading aloud the descriptions.
You could invite learners to create a visual representation of a method that has been shared by a member of the class, which isn't included in the set of five. (It is important to capture the different ways of thinking, so even if the resulting visual looks similar to one that has already been given, if the method is slightly different, it is worth including it as an alternative.)
This task and teachers' resources are based on an activity in this extract from the Number Talks online course, created by the YouCubed team.